Pressure grows on Tokyo organizing committee over Mori comments

Sometimes “sorry” isn’t enough. That’s what Olympic organizers have learned in the week since they declared the issue of Tokyo committee chief Mori Yoshiro’s derogatory comments about women “closed.” Lawmakers, business leaders and the general public are making it clear the problem is far from resolved. And another controversial comment from a politician has poured fuel on the fire.

Protests show little sign of abating

Female opposition party lawmakers attended Tuesday’s Lower House session in all-white to protest Mori, who had said in a meeting of the Japan Olympic Committee that “women talk too much.” Some male lawmakers showed solidarity with white roses in their suit pockets.

All-white outfits were a symbol of the women’s suffrage movement in the early 20th century. Lawmakers in the United States staged a similar protest last February against then-president Donald Trump.

“Not one member of the government or ruling parties pushed for Mori to step down,” said Tsujimoto Kiyomi, deputy leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party. “The administration is showing its blatant contempt for women.”

She added that a country without gender equality could not be considered a democracy.

lawmakers with white outfits
Female lawmakers from opposition parties wore white outfits to protest Mori’s remarks.

Online, the outrage is gathering steam, with more than 140,000 people signing a petition calling on the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee to punish Mori.

The International Olympic Committee was eventually forced to take a stronger stance. On Tuesday, it issued a statement calling Mori’s remarks “absolutely inappropriate.”

Another day, another gaffe

A day earlier, a ruling party lawmaker had added to the outrage with insensitive remarks of his own.

After it was revealed that nearly 400 people had pulled out as volunteers for the Tokyo Games because of Mori’s comments, Secretary General of the governing Liberal Democratic Party Nikai Toshihiro said in a press conference that they could find replacements.

He also said the volunteers had acted impulsively and were likely to have second thoughts.

This time, the remarks drew a rebuke from within the government. Minister for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games Hashimoto Seiko said it was a very serious matter that people no longer wanted to be volunteers, and called Nikai’s remarks inappropriate.

Nikai Toshihiro
Nikai Toshihiro, Secretary General of the governing Liberal Democratic Party.

Mizoguchi Noriko, Olympic medalist and professor at the Japan Women’s College of Physical Education, says while Mori’s comments could dampen excitement for the Games, they could also serve as a catalyst for men in Japan to reevaluate their beliefs about gender roles.

“I think some men believe that including more women in an organization means they will lose key positions. It’s not rivalry that drives women to raise their hands in meetings. It’s that they understand the matter being discussed,” she says. “I think it will be good if this uproar triggers change in Japan and the Tokyo Games help promote gender equality as defined by the Olympic Charter.”

Mizoguchi Noriko, a professor at the Japan Women’s College of Physical Education, won a silver medal in judo at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Watch video: 3:21

Corporate response

Mori’s comments also landed badly with many Tokyo Games sponsors. NHK surveyed 70 Olympic corporate partners. More than half called the remarks unacceptable and twenty-two said they had received protests or complaints from clients, with some asking them to end their sponsorship.

The committee's executive board and board of councilors will meet on Friday to discuss Mori's remarks. The boards are made of politicians and leaders in the sport and business worlds, and have the power to replace the president.